Sunday, April 27, 2014

Helen, Part IV: Married Life

Helen Marie (Timmons) Miller, and daughter Sandra
Elkhart, Indiana, 1946

After his 1937 marriage, Eldon Miller continued his work as a clerk at the Serv-U-Well Grocery in Goshen, Indiana, as his new wife, Helen, did her best to make their first home together a tidy, welcoming one. Admittedly, the tasks and duties of a housewife in the "big city" of Goshen beat the tiresome farm work she experienced living in rural Elkhart County with her parents. Her father, William Timmons, expected his children to be hard workers, and as all the elder boys married and left home, he had no problem hiring out his youngest daughter for the same laborious work his sons had done in the past. Maintaining a home was almost a luxury in comparison.

Shortly after their first holiday season together as husband and wife, Helen realized she was expecting their first child. Eldon was ecstatic. On 15 August 1938 they welcomed their baby boy into the world and named him Jerry Duane Miller. Eldon was over-the-moon thrilled that his first born was a son. Oddly, for the youngest child of three surviving children, having both an older sister and brother, Eldon put an enormous amount of importance on the first-borne son, and Jerry would forever be the "Golden Child" who could do no wrong.

Although their home on Cottage Avenue was a modest little bungalow with plenty of room for the couple and their newborn son, the young family moved just north to 205 North Eighth Street in Goshen. The home was situated just north of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway tracks and Rock Run Creek and northeast of downtown. If you followed the banks of the creek northwestward for a mile, you would end up in Oak Ridge Cemetery, bounded to its south by the railroad, and just two blocks from Eldon's parents' home on Queen Street.

The move occurred in late 1939 or early 1940, but by 23 April 1940 when Elizabeth Waterman, enumerator for the federal census being taken that year, visited the home at 205 North Eighth Street, Helen was there to answer her questions. Eldon was still working as a grocery clerk, and although still in the midst of the Great Depression, he had worked all fifty-two weeks of 1939, taking home $960 in wages. Although their home was only worth $1,200 and was one of the lesser valued in the area, Eldon's salary was one of the highest. Helen herself had claimed ten weeks of work in 1939 and fifty dollars in wages, although she did not state the source of such employment.

For the Midwest, Eldon and his family were doing well. The Fair Labors Standard Act of 1938 guaranteed for the first time in American history a minimum hourly wage of twenty-five cents. This rose to thirty cents in 1939. The same federal statute mandated a maximum forty-four hour work week, and if Eldon was working an a average forty-hour work week, he was making an hourly wage of over forty-six cents. He was by no means a rich man, but they owned their home, and they were getting by nicely.

And getting by in the Depression was necessary for the Millers, because when the census taker visited Helen on that spring day in 1940, she was two months into her second pregnancy. Their second son, Ted William, was born on 19 November 1940.

Perhaps things were already tense in the Miller household, but the birth of another son did not bring Eldon the joy that accompanied Jerry's birth two years before. When Sandra Kay joined the family at the little home on Eighth Street on 4 July 1942, she was little more than an afterthought.

With World War II in full fighting force in Europe, Eldon Miller moved his family eleven miles northwest into the city of Elkhart, Indiana. Although Goshen was the county seat of Elkhart County, Elkhart was by far the more populous city. It was the industrial hub of the area, supported by numerous musical instrument factories, recreational vehicle factories, the National New York Central railway, Miles Medical Company, and numerous other mills, factories, and businesses. Their new home at 236 Bank Street in Elkhart was a 768-square-foot, two-bedroom home built in 1926. It was, and still is, nestled in a quiet little neighborhood bordered on the south by picturesque Rice Cemetery, and on the north by the St. Joseph River. The quiet little neighborhood should have been an idyllic location to raise three young children. But the Miller marriage was already on rocky ground.

When in Elkhart, Eldon Miller's profession was that of a machinist. This, of course, was a big step from grocery store clerk. It has been said that while in Elkhart, he worked for the Bendix Corporation. Although the Bendix complex was situated in South Bend, Indiana, twenty-five miles to the west, it is not an unlikely scenario. During World War II, the Bendix Corporation manufactured just about every part found within all military aircrafts, in addition to radar equipment of all kinds. For a country at war, this was booming business, and it may even be the reason Eldon moved his family to Elkhart. To take advantage of the work opportunities in South Bend, yet stay close to his roots in Elkhart County, he could live in Elkhart and utilize the public interurban bus and railway systems that could take him from Elkhart into South Bend every day. With civilian automobile production halted in 1942 and ration cards distributed allowing the purchase of only three to four gallons of gas weekly, Eldon was certainly not driving to work each day.

No more children were born to Eldon DeWayne and Helen Marie (Timmons) Miller after Sandy's birth in 1942. Perhaps in an attempt to save a failing marriage and provide more space for his growing three children, Eldon purchased a larger home at 625 Gladstone Avenue in Elkhart in 1945. The home was older, built in 1900, but it provided the family with a third bedroom and over 1,200 square feet of room. It was barely a mile south of their previous home, situated in the older neighborhood south of Rice Cemetery, and just east of the older and more scenic Grace Lawn Cemetery. It was a quiet area with modest yet stately homes surrounded by the river, the cemeteries, and numerous riverside parks. It should have been a time for celebration for this young family to be able to afford such a luxury at the end of the war.

But a new house was not what Helen wanted or needed from Eldon. They separated within the year on 9 July 1946 with Helen and the children staying at the Gladstone Avenue address. The next day, Eldon procured an attorney and filed for divorce (see Hoosier Daddy?: The Divorce). He had recently discovered that Helen was "publicly running with another man" and that she was again pregnant. This time the child was not his. Helen had caused Eldon "to suffer grievously in mind and body, destroyed his happiness and broken up their home." He wanted out of the marriage.

This, of course, was Eldon Miller's version of the story. There are no legal documents providing Helen (Timmons) Miller's version.

Only she could provide those details.

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